On December 6, 1989, fourteen women were murdered at the École Polytechnique in Montreal by a gunman equipped with a legally acquired semi-automatic paramilitary rifle and a large capacity clip magazine. Although the weapon was advertised by its manufacturers, Sturm, Ruger and Co. of Connecticut, as "ideal for law enforcement", it was popular with hunters and was readily available at stores. The gunman's rampage provoked an unprecedented outcry for stricter gun control laws in Canada. While revisions to the firearms provisions of the Criminal Code were already being considered, the tragedy reopened gun control debate and committed federal legislators to a firm timetable for enacting new legislation. On the eve of the second anniversary of the women's deaths Bill C-17, which contained a substantial number of amendments to the firearms section of the Criminal Code, was given royal assent. In this paper I will attempt to analyse the Bill C-17 amendments from two perspectives: accessibility to, and availability of, firearms. Controlling accessibility entails tightening the screening processes for gun procurement whereas circulation and regulating availability involves reducing the number of weapons in possession and circulation. These two approaches also represent divided perspectives in the community. Generally, gun owners and their supporters favour access controls, which leave legitimate purchasers free to buy and own as many weapons as they wish, while people wishing to move towards a gun free society support access controls coupled with a reduction in the numbers of available weapons. With Bill C-17 Parliament has attempted to increase controls on access to firearms and stiffen penalties for weapons related offences. Provisions directly affecting the availability of firearms – which depend mostly on the classification of weapons, as either prohibited or restricted – remain by and large unchanged. Thus, although large capacity clip magazines, like those used by the gunman in Montreal, are now prohibited, semi-automatic rifles remain classified as non-restricted firearms. Together with any number of smaller capacity magazines, they can still be purchased in unlimited quantities.
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Peter M Neumann, "Canada's New Gun Control Legislation: Stiffer Penalties and Controlled Access" (1992) 1 Dal J Leg Stud 175.